Julia Louis-Dreyfus by Gage Skidmore (flickr)
Most people never actually get the chance to meet the celebrities they watch on TV or in the movies. An occasional sighting on the street or maybe a chance encounter often makes for great stories that get told at dinner parties for years to come.
Even though many don’t usually have the chance to actually talk with celebrities face-to-face, they can still be important figures. From the stories and characters they bring to life to the causes they champion, many celebrities become admired icons.
That may be part of the reason why we still feel sad when a celebrity experiences a tragedy. Although she’s taking it in stride, a recent announcement from actress Julia Louis-Dreyfus is just that kind of tragedy.
Julia Louis-Dreyfus’s accomplishments and announcements
On September 17th, Julia Louis-Dreyfus set the record for the most number of Emmys won for a single role when she took home her sixth award for her portrayal of Selina Meyer in HBO’s Veep. According to sources, the next day, September 18th, Louis-Dreyfus was diagnosed with breast cancer. In a picture that she posted to Twitter ten days later, September 28th, Louis-Dreyfus announced to the world that she had indeed been diagnosed with breast cancer.
Julia Louis-Dreyfus has been a mainstay in American culture since she first rose to fame in the 1980s as a cast member of Saturday Night Live. After finishing her time on the sketch comedy series, Louis-Dreyfus began her role as Elaine Benes on the sitcom Seinfeld, which has earned a place of high regard in the history books of American television. While her portrayal of Elaine on Seinfeld may be Louis-Dreyfus’s most recognizable role, she has also starred in two more shows since finishing Seinfeld in 1998. From 2006-2010 she starred in The New Adventures of Old Christine, and since 2012 she has starred as Selina Meyer in the critically and commercially successful comedy series Veep. Throughout her career, she’s won a total of eleven Emmys, although she’s been nominated for twenty-four. At this point, Louis-Dreyfus is a well-respected and recognizable name when it comes to American television and comedy.
The 1 in 8
On September 28th, Louis-Dreyfus announced her breast cancer diagnosis. She wrote: “1 in 8 women get breast cancer. Today, I’m the one.” She then went on to address the topic of breast cancer a bit more widely when she continued, “The good news is that I have the most glorious group of supportive and caring friends, and fantastic insurance through my union. The bad news is that not all women are so lucky, so let’s fight all cancers and make universal health care a reality.” The message was typed in black lettering on a white sheet of paper and at the bottom Ms. Louis-Dreyfus signed her name.
After her initial announcement, many other celebrities tweeted their support and sympathy for Louis-Dreyfus. While she’s certainly not the first celebrity to publicly battle breast cancer –survivors like Christina Applegate voiced their encouragement via Twitter – her diagnosis is still a tragedy.
Rate of breast cancer
In addition to announcing her fight with breast cancer, Louis-Dreyfus also managed to bring up several important points about the disease even in her short message. As she noted in her preface, 1 in 8 women will develop invasive breast cancer over their lifetime. According to Breast Cancer.org, 252,710 new cases of breast cancer will be diagnosed in the United States in 2017 alone. Although breast cancer rates have been declining somewhat in America over recent years, for nearly two decades leading up to the 2000s the rate of occurrence among women continued to climb higher and higher.
The risk of breast cancer also increases significantly in patients who have a first-degree relative such as a mother who had breast cancer in her life time. According to estimates, nearly 3.1 million women in the United States have been diagnosed and treated for breast cancer. Additionally, in women with gene mutations such as the BRCA mutation, the risk of the cancer spreading to both breasts and then even the lungs is much higher. This data is sobering, especially when you consider that breast cancer is the second deadliest form of cancer affecting women in the United States today. While understanding the prevalence of breast cancer may not do anything to stop the disease once it’s been diagnosed, it’s still incredibly important.
The importance of breast cancer awareness
With her tweet, Louis-Dreyfus was able to raise awareness about the seriousness of breast cancer in America. Being aware of the risks and likelihood of developing breast cancer is an incredibly important step in the fight to end the disease. While breast cancer can be deadly, if caught early there are methods for treating the disease successfully. But in order to diagnose the disease in its early stages, patients must be aware of their risk factors and they have to be willing to talk about it with their medical providers.
In the not-so-distant past, female celebrities like Louis-Dreyfus might have been nervous about announcing their diagnosis, and for good reason; the American public hasn’t always been as kind and supportive as they are today. But because of people like Louis-Dreyfus and the many other women who have worked so hard for years to fight breast cancer, the negative stigma that once surrounded the disease is vanishing. If we’re going to be successful in the fight against breast cancer, then there can’t be a stigma. Patients need to understand that an early diagnosis is one of the most important steps in successful treatment.
In addition to highlighting the continued need for awareness about the disease, Louis-Dreyfus’s tweet also touched on some of the barriers that many women may face. As Louis-Dreyfus noted, her healthcare will ensure that she receives the treatment and care that she needs as a patient. Having access to health care is also important when it comes to diagnosing breast cancer because it gives patients the resources they need to test for the disease. Unfortunately, not all patients have the health care they need to successfully fight the disease.
Awareness and access to information about breast cancer is the first barrier against successful treatment, but it’s certainly not the last. If a woman is diagnosed with breast cancer, she will likely have a long road to recovery. Treatment for breast cancer typically includes surgical removal of the affected tissue and chemotherapy. This regime can be hard on the body and to withstand it, women need both caring medical professionals and a strong support system to help them get through the process. With an early diagnosis and treatment regime, many women with breast cancer will successfully fight the disease. But a patient won’t be successful if she doesn’t even have the chance to begin treatment in the first place. While we’ve come a long way in the fight against breast cancer, as Louis-Dreyfus’s tweet highlights, there’s still a long way to go.
Julia Louis-Dreyfus has had a prominent place in American film and television since the 1980s. Her career has spanned multiple shows and roles and garnered her an impressive collection of accolades and awards. The news that Louis-Dreyfus is battling breast cancer is certainly a tragedy. Although she’s now in the midst of fighting this terrible disease, Louis-Dreyfus has already joined the fight against breast cancer even just through her bold announcement.
Although the battle against breast cancer has made enormous strides in recent years, we have to continue raising awareness about the condition and fighting for access to necessary health care in order to ensure that more women are successful in their battle with the disease.